Written by Sam Moylan
Yoga is an ancient method that is becoming increasingly popular in the western world. It is a multi-faceted practice which has many different elements, ranging from physical postures to breathwork, meditation, focus and spirituality. The holistic nature of yoga makes it a useful tool for combating the complexity of persistent pain. Below is a brief snapshot of the evidence around the use of yoga for the treatment of pain and disability.
A meta-analysis, Effects of Yoga Interventions on Pain and Pain-associated Disability (Bussing, Ostermann, Ludtke & Michalsen, 2011), reviewed 16 studies to assess the effects of yoga on pain and pain related disability. Five of these studies were considered high quality, seven moderate quality and four low quality. Six of the studies looked at lower back pain, two at rheumatoid arthritis, two at headache/migraine and the other six at individual issues.
Findings showed four studies with strong effects of yoga on pain intensity/frequency, six studies showed moderate effects and two weak effects. In terms of pain-related disability, five studies reported strong effect sizes, four moderate and three weak.
Overall, this review showed promising evidence that yoga may be a useful intervention for multiple pain disorders. However, authors stated further studies are required to identify which specific patients may benefit from which specific aspects of yoga interventions.
A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Yoga for Low Back Pain (Cramer et al., 2013) analysed the effectiveness of yoga for managing low back pain specifically. Ten trials were included with a total of 967 chronic low back pain patients. The main outcome measures assessed were pain, back specific disability, generic disability, health related quality of life and global improvement.
The results showed strong evidence for short term effects on pain, back specific disability, and global improvement. There was also strong evidence for long term effects on pain, as well as moderate evidence for long term effects on back specific disability. In summary the review demonstrated strong evidence for the short-term effectiveness and moderate evidence for the long-term effectiveness of yoga for chronic low back pain.
Current evidence supports interventions that address the biological, psychological, and social aspects of persistent pain. While no one intervention is advised to cover all bases, yoga’s wide scope makes it an ideal candidate for the management of ongoing pain. As we can see, the large-scale reviews above support this notion and highlight the benefits that yoga can have on pain and disability.
- Büssing, A., Ostermann, T., Lüdtke, R., & Michalsen, A. (2012). Effects of yoga interventions on pain and pain-associated disability: a meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain, 13(1), 1-9.
- Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Haller, H., & Dobos, G. (2013). A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain. The Clinical journal of pain, 29(5), 450-460.